Meet Nate Bett – Dark Sky (Astro) Photographer & Northern Lights Chaser
Recently, we had a chance to talk with Nate Bett @natebett about a number of topics, including being born in the backwoods of the Upper Peninsula (with no electricity or indoor plumbing), why the Keweenaw is the best place to chase the Northern Lights, and what brought him from New York to the Keweenaw!
“My parents moved to the Marquette area in the early 70s. I was born out in the middle of the woods, no joke, delivered at home, in a house built by my family. It had no electricity, a hand pump for water, and an outhouse. It was on a seasonal road that could only be accessed by snowmobile in the winter.”
Q: Can you tell us about your background?
We moved to Marquette the year I started kindergarten and I was a total “townie” from then on. More skateboards and basement bands than camping and fishing. I actually used to come up to the Keweenaw in the 90’s to play punk rock shows at The Motherlode in Houghton with a band called Dud!
I graduated from Northern Michigan University in 2004 with a BFA in Fine Arts–that’s where I also met my wife Amy. We moved down to Metro Detroit right after graduation. We lived there for about six years and most of that time I spent working for a photo studio called Mid Coast Studio. We shot national ads for the Big 3 and other corporate clients. It was a great technical education and I got to travel a lot.
Q: You also lived in New York, right? Were you going to school there?
So in 2010 we moved to New York and I attended Parsons The New School For Design. I graduated with an MFA in 2013. I worked on a lot of different projects in New York, including teaching for five years in the City University Of New York system; working with Spencer Finch on a large commission for the 9/11 Memorial Museum; and working in training, marketing, and education for Canon; but if I had to pick one thing to talk about it would be my work with the non-profit Photoville Festival. Everyone should check out Photoville. I’m immensely proud of my involvement with them.
Q: What made you return to the U.P.— moving from New York to the Keweenaw?
We moved here in December 2020. We had been talking about moving back to the U.P. for a while. We always took our summer vacations here and centered them around the Hiawatha Music Festival. It’s hard to stay away from the lake for too long when you’re from around here.
This area is very magnetic, both literally and figuratively. We decided that if one of us got a steady job up here we would go for it. And here we are. My wife Amy teaches Art, and I take care of our daughter and go out shooting when I can.
Q: Where has been your favorite place to shoot?
It’s tough to pick a favorite because I’ve been trying to hit a new place just about every time I go out. I’m still exploring! I love the whole West side and all the black rock. I love Quincy Mine and the other ruins and ghost towns. Colorful sunrises on the East side in the winter were glorious and humbling. And cold, really, really cold!
Q: You have phenomenal shots of the Northern Lights. What do you think makes the Keweenaw the ideal place to capture the Northern Lights?
The Keweenaw is amazing for astro photography in general because it’s dark here. Very dark. It sounds overly simplistic, but that’s the real key. You need to get very far away from bright lights to get a great shot of the complexities of the night sky. Even the lights of Houghton can put out quite a bit of light pollution. We’re kind of on the southern edge of the typical viewing area for the Northern Lights, but because we have such a huge span of darkness looking North over Lake Superior, we get a great view even when they are not directly over top of us.
Q: Do you “actively” monitor atmospheric forecasts and “chase” the Northern Lights?
I have an app I look at. I actually haven’t done it that much. A couple of times in Iceland, but nothing crazy while I was there. More in the last 2 months than the last 20 years combined. My background in photography is pretty varied. I’ve worn quite a few hats in the industry, astro photography, landscape, and wildlife are all pretty new to me. But It’s what I’ve been concentrating on lately and it’s been a lot of fun.
Q: Could you tell us about any future plans or goals?
Keep an eye out for some products in local stores. I’ll have a set of postcards coming out in the next week or so. They will be available first from K.C. Bonkers in Hancock (I love KC Bonker!), and on my website.
I’m also working on an arts collective called Art Monster with a couple of friends out East, keep your eyes out for a launch in the near future. I’m currently working with the Copper Country Community Arts Center on teaching a workshop or two this summer. I do plan to open some kind of studio or gallery in the area at some point, but right now it all takes a back seat to raising my daughter. Being a full-time dad is my primary job right now. That’s kind of why most of my new work is shot at night and very early in the morning. That’s when I can get out.
Q: Can you tell us what’s been the best part about living in the Keweenaw…so far?
I love just spending a lot of time outside with my family, being by the lake, and of course, taking photos!
Q: What’s your contact info for people interested in your work or have questions or recommendations for you on “hidden gems” to visit?
You can DM me on social media. I’m on Instagram a lot more than I am on Facebook, although I’m trying to make sure that I go over there and update it more often. The best way to get me is through email, email@example.com or you can reach me through the contact page on my website.
“Shop local, buy art from artists in your community, and please say “Hi!” if you see me out on the trail (but keep your flashlights down =P). If you know any places I should check out or you want to go mushroom picking–hit me up!” -Nate Bett